A DEMOLITION scheme to clear a housing estate of derelict homes has been completed ahead of schedule to stop youths running riot.

The final 26 properties to be cleared from the Woodhouse Close Estate, in Bishop Auckland, were pulled down on Wednesday - three weeks earlier than planned.

Demolition of empty houses in Ramsey Crescent and West Lane had to be brought forward to stop gangs of youths using them as a base for a rampage of destruction.

The culprits had been smashing windows, ripping out fixtures and fittings to use as missiles and starting fires in the buildings.

On Tuesday night, firefighters from Bishop Auckland and Darlington stations were called out to tackle a blaze in the roof of one of the houses.

The chaos left many residents frightened after site security was withdrawn because of safety fears.

An emergency meeting between police, fire brigade, Wear Valley District Council housing officers, local councillors and the construction company was called to tackle the problem.

Construction workers agreed to work early mornings and weekends to cut the time spent on site from five weeks to only 11 days.

David Milburn, of Wear Valley District Council's housing department, said: "The derelict buildings attracted anti-social behaviour which could not continue.

"The meeting produced positive action to tackle the problems and hopefully now that the demolition work is finished there will be less opportunity for these youths to cause the disruption, vandalism and fear they have done for the estate's residents."

Street wardens, who improve conditions and community safety in parts of the district, have increased their patrols of the estate.

A sixth warden joined the team last month, enabling the team to work in pairs during daylight hours.

Former bakery driver Wayne Reid, of Crook, joined warden, Steven Green, to patrol the estate.

He said: "As people get to know who we both are they're acknowledging us.

"Residents can come to us with any concerns.

"We can offer support to vulnerable groups, such as older people, so they feel more comfortable in their own community."